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Portugal: Alvor, Cascais, Faro, Lisbon, Sintra

Sintra, Portugal: Romance is in the air
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief

Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is known for its many 19th-century Romantic architectural monuments. Although its heritage in buildings and nature is the most visible face of the historic individuality of Sintra, a whole literary heritage has made the area a legendary reference in Portuguese culture.

The Cross, Cabo da Roca, Portugal Sintra has become a major tourist centre, visited by many day-trippers who travel from the capital Lisbon. In addition to the Sintra Mountains and Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, the parishes of the town of Sintra are dotted with royal retreats, estates, castles and other buildings, including the mediaeval Castelo dos Mouros, the Pena National Palace and the Sintra National Palace.

On second day of our arrival in Lisbon, we opted for a day trip to Sintra. For the trip we were booked with Inside Lisbon Tours who organize private van trips with a small group (maximum 8). Our group was in good hands of our guide and driver Pedro Santos. He had good command over English and also Spanish. His commentary was in both the languages as a few in our group knew only Spanish. Pedro was enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable. It was a good 8 hours with him. The day trip included the visit to the iconic Pena Palace, Sintra Town, Cabo da Roca and the town of Cascais.

The pick-up point for all day trips from Lisbon is near the Hard Rock Café in Rossio. At 9AM we were ready to roll. We had a Mercedes van and the drive to Sintra was about 45 minutes. Our first stop was the Pena Palace. Entrance to the Pena Park and the Palace was included in trip cost.

Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal Pedro walked us through the mysterious Pena Park which is remarkable as a project of landscape transformation of a hill, barren at the time. The park integrates several historic gardens and occupies almost 85 hectres of exceptional geological and climatic conditions. It was not possible to cover the entire park, but just a small section of it. We discover secret caves and trails; the Bridge; the Queen’s Throne; Saint Catherine’s Heights and the Small Chapel. Finally after a comfortable climb we entered the romantic Pena National Palace at the top of the mountain with amazing views over the Moorish castle.

Triton, Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal The Pena Palace has a profusion of styles much in accordance with the exotic taste of the Romanticism. The intentional mixture of eclectic styles includes the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance.

The castle's history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. According to tradition, construction occurred after an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

In 1493, King John II, accompanied by his wife Queen Leonor, made a pilgrimage to the site to fulfill a vow. His successor, King Manuel I, was also very fond of this sanctuary, and ordered the construction of a monastery on this site which was donated to the Order of Saint Jerome. For centuries Pena was a small, quiet place for meditation, housing a maximum of eighteen monks.

In the 18th century the monastery was severely damaged by lightning. However, it was the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, occurring shortly afterwards, that took the heaviest toll on the monastery, reducing it to ruins. Nonetheless, the chapel (and its works of marble and alabaster attributed to Nicolau Chanterene) escaped without significant damage.

Moorish Castle, Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal For many decades the ruins remained untouched, but they still astonished young prince Ferdinand. In 1838, as King consort Ferdinand II, he decided to acquire the old monastery, all of the surrounding lands, the nearby Castle of the Moors and a few other estates in the area. King Ferdinand then set out to transform the remains of the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. The commission for the Romantic style rebuilding was given to Lieutenant-General and mining engineer Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. Eschwege, a German amateur architect, was much traveled and likely had knowledge of several castles along the Rhine River. The construction took place from 1842–1854, although it was almost completed in 1847: King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II intervened decisively on matters of decoration and symbolism. Among others, the King suggested vault arches, medieval and Islamic elements be included, and he also designed an ornate window for the main façade (inspired by the chapter house window of the Convent of the Order of Christ in Tomar).

Chapel, Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal After the death of Ferdinand the palace passed into the possession of his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla. The latter then sold the palace to King Luís, who wanted to retrieve it for the royal family, and thereafter the palace was frequently used by the family. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum. The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her last night at the palace before leaving the country in exile.

From the palace we came down to Sintra Town. We were given about 90 minutes to have lunch and explore the town. And that’s exactly what we did. Ate at a local restaurant and walked the pretty town and did some souvenir shopping.

At 2PM the group met at the designated stop, all set to discover Cabo da Roca – the western most point of the European continent.

The cape is located within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, 42 kilometres west of the city of Lisbon and in the southwest of Sintra. It was a 30-minute drive from Sintra. A location (38°47'N 9°30'W) is inscribed on a stone plaque, located on a monument at the site. At the cape attention is also drawn by the lighthouse which is 165 meteres high and dates from 1772.

Dining Room, Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal The western coast is a mixture of sand beaches and rocky cliff promontories: around Cabo da Roca, cliffs are more than 100 metres in height, and cut into crystalline rocks, composed of strongly folded and faulted sedimentary units. These forms are disturbed by dikes and small beaches. This promontory of "high" beaches is the extreme western immersion of the ancient eruptive Sintra massif, as evident from the rose-coloured granite in the north and syenite of the Ribeira do Lourical in the south. In the vicinity of the Cape, there are geomorphological examples of gabbro-diorite, volcanic breccia, and granite. Part of the granite formations show evidence of strong coastal erosion, while in other areas there are limestone deposits embedded in the granite.

The Rocks, Cabo da Roca, Portugal Much of the vegetation in this cape are low-lying and adapted to saltwater and windy conditions. Once home to a variety of plant life, Cabo da Roca has been overrun with the invasive plant species Carpobrotus edulis. This creeping, mat-forming plant, a member of the Aizoaceae succulent family, was introduced as ground cover by local residents several decades ago, but now covers much of the arable land on Cabo da Roca. Many migratory and marine birds roost temporarily along the cliffs and protected coves of the coastal area.

Cabo da Roca is among the 800 geographical points throughout the world that have been dedicated to Peace since 1989 through the Sri Chinmay Peace Blossoms programme.

We wre on the cape for 30 minutes. Thereafter we began our winding drive along the coast to vist Cascais.

Sintra Image Gallery Photo viewer Photo viewer

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